A little over a year ago I decided to move with my girlfriend, Jess, to a 26 square mile island in the South Pacific. The island is called Rarotonga, and is the main island in the Cook Islands. I'm severely restricted in my internet usage (30GB/month of island-speed for $200) so I'll slowly be adding to this thread. If you've seen my Instagram, apologies - there will be photos reposted here.
This is a photo I took of the south side of Rarotonga (Raro for short). We live right next to the larger reef passage in this photo.
Here is some terminology: The reef is where the waves are breaking. The lagoon is the area inside the waves and isn't anything like the lagoons in California - this one is full of tropical fish and corals. The reef passages are the dark blue strips that function as rip currents allowing water that has flown over the reef and into the lagoon in the form of waves to exhaust back into the ocean. The passages can be dangerous - people die in them nearly every year. But the passages are full of life and on a small surf day, are a nice way to get outside the reef, either by swimming or in a boat.
Here is a photo of me and Jess straight outside our passage. Passages are also popular surf spots due to a left and right breaking on the corners of the mouth. While most days are sunny and gorgeous here, we make the best of the tropical storms.
This is a photo of the same reef passage from straight above. The passage gets about 60 feet across and 60 feet deep.
This is Panulirus penicillatus
, the pronghorn spiny lobster. These lobsters are the widest ranging spiny lobster in the world and the main species of lobster you may have found while visiting Hawaii. They are caught only by divers or people walking the reef at night. Traps don't work. Here, they are the larger of the two species of spiny lobsters. They are very cryptic during the day, hiding deep in the cracks of the reef. To find them, diving at night is the best way. They crawl out of the reef and sit in the surge zone. Catching them is fun but can be dangerous in big surf.
This is the other species of spiny lobster you can find here. It is called a longlegged spiny lobster (Panulirus longipes bispinosus
). Unlike the pronghorn, these guys like to spend their nights in deep surge channels. The shallowest I've found one of these was 20ft. They are also nocturnal and nearly impossible to find during the day.
They are very similar in appearance to the pronghorn. To tell these species apart, you'll notice the blue on the pronghorn is in the soft joints of the antennae, whereas the longlegged has tan tissue on the soft joints. The longlegged has purple plectrums (the squeaky pads) whereas the pronghorn has carapace colored plectrums. And if you were wondering, the longlegged tastes sweeter but unfortunately doesn't get as big nor is as common.
The final type of "lobster" that you can find here are slipper lobsters. I don't want to talk about species because I don't know them all - I actually think I may have found a new/undescribed species. But they are in genus Paribaccus
, are all very similar in appearance and don't get much bigger than your open hand. They love the surge zone and sometimes can be found in groups. Despite their small 'four bite' sized tail, the locals love them. I can attest to their tail meat being of very high quality.
For you fish crazy consumptive folks, Raro isn’t a great spearfishing destination for reef fish. Ciguatera here is a big problem. I don’t know any fisherman (other than myself, knock on wood) who lives here who hasn’t gotten cig.
I recently met a Cook Islander who was maybe in his late 40s. I could tell he was completely there mentally by looking at his eyes, but his hands were in fists, arms tight and didn’t appear to be very functional. He could walk though and my girlfriend introduced me. Turns out he used to be THE outdoor recreation guide on the island. He would take tourists and local kids outdoors on hikes and teach them about nature. Well, that was until he almost died of cig poisoning. He is now paralyzed for life. He can’t even talk. It is terribly saddening.
Needless to say, I stay away from fish that are implicated in cig poisonings. One fish that apparently never poisons people is the soldierfish. If you’ve been to Hawaii or other tropical locations, you’ll have seen them in caves during the day or swimming along reef drop-offs at night.
A small soldierfish with a giant moray backdrop-
Hunting soldierfish during the day is fairly easy. They usually stare at you from their cave until the first shot is taken. Then the fish remaining in the hole get pretty frantic and dart back and forth. In this photo my friend Georgia shot her first fish ever, a soldierfish, from a crack 30 feet down.
The real challenge is hunting them at night. After the sun goes down, the fish come out. They become sensitive to light so illuminating them with a flashlight usually causes them to bolt away. My girlfriend Jess got her first soldierfish at night. I was impressed. Actually, both Georgia (above) and Jess appeared to be more accurate with a speargun than I am.
While the ciguatera is bad here, it does have a bonus: many game fish that in other places are hunted and therefore wary of divers, will swim right up to you.
The most common gamefish that is (usually) not hunted is the bluefin trevally.
TO BE CONTINUED...